Iris Prize: The Human Condition

This year we welcome the Iris Prize to debut a selection of LGBTQ+ inspired shorts. Each year, 35 films compete in Cardiff for the award, which offers £30,000 for the production of a new film. So far, eight films have been produced, four of which will screen as part of this exciting showcase. Each short evokes a variety of emotive and transient themes including love, loneliness and friendship, achieved through unique cinematic techniques. Berwyn Rowlands, Festival Director, discusses the films in today’s contexts.

ASFF: Your reel of films will be screening at ASFF 2017 – why is this important as a platform, and why do you think it’s relevant for festivals to be working together to share film?
To secure as big an audience as possible for LGBT stories is our aim at the Iris Prize. To achieve this, we work with many partners including traditional broadcasters including BBC Wales who have secured the rights to screen all the Iris Productions. We also work with distribution companies and in the UK, have a strong partnership with Peccadillo Picture, and many of the Iris shorts can be seen on the Boys on Film DVD collections.

Naturally we also work with film festivals we believe would give our films a platform. We’ve been selected and won awards at Sundance and SXSW. Working with ASFF 2017 was a natural progression from attending the festival last year. It is important because ASFF will bring Iris a new audience and we guess an audience which is not exclusively LGBT. 30% of the Iris Festival audience in Cardiff identify as straight.

ASFF: What themes do your films cover?
The four films selected could be categorised as LGBT, but the themes covered are broad and universal. Bereavement, relationships, falling in and out of love, loneliness are all covered by the four film makers.

ASFF: Are there any connections between the shorts in terms of conceptual or visual elements?
The four films although presented as part of the Iris Productions brand are independent and made by a German, Norwegian and two Australians award winning filmmakers. They are further connected in that are made in Wales with average budgets of about £30,000 by winner of the Iris Prize. They are also original scripts written by the directors and have an LGBT theme running through them.

ASFF: Why did you select these films? In what ways are they particularly relevant with 21st century audiences?
I’ve spent the best part of 30 years demystifying short films. Trying to get audiences to give them a go and at the same time reminding filmmakers that they are more than just calling cards on that journey to first feature heaven! The films I’ve selected are accessible. They work on many levels and to some extent it is up to the audience to decide how they want to relate to them. The films are a manifestation of the 21st century, they offer the audience a glimpse into the ordinary and successfully comment on the state of the human condition today.

ASFF: How do the films / filmmakers fulfil your mission as a festival?
We as a festival co-produce the winning films with the Iris Prize winners. We’ve completed 9 and will shortly start pre-production on our 10th Iris Production. We give each filmmaker the freedom to bring to the big screen the story of their choice. However, up to now, there has been an unwritten agreement that we expect the films to highlight LGBT issues or at least present LGBT characters on the screen.

ASFF: What lines of inquiry are being made surrounding identity politics within LGBTQ+ communities?
This depends on the filmmaker we are working with. You could argue that the first decade of Iris productions has delivered a mixed message, confirming the stability of LGBT identity on the one hand and celebrating the deconstruction of a fixed notion of sexual and gender identity on the other. Personally, I’m more interested in the fluidity of gender and sexuality but appreciate that to engage with a broad audience we need to present multiple narratives.

ASFF: How does Boys Village look at the bildungsroman form in new ways?
IP: Without giving too much away, the story is a classical interpretation of the bildungsroman form but it differs in one significant way. Boys Village asks the audience to consider what happens when the coming of age story is not allowed to reach a conclusion, when the adversity that needs to be addressed is fundamentally too great. Although there is a resolution to the story you are left feeling that one form of purgatory is being replaced by another.

ASFF: How does Burger look at dialogue as an important element of film, and in extension, how communication is fundamental to the human experience?
Burger is dialogue heavy but the words are replaced by the rhythm of the communication and direction we witness on screen. It is interesting to note that the strong Cardiff dialect does not need subtitles and that the film has been enjoyed by audiences across the world. The director was also recognised by a Sundance award for “Best ensemble performance” highlighting the successful depiction of the human experience.

ASFF: The best comedy is underlined by dramatic elements; how does Followers highlight faith and loneliness through the building blocks of successful screenwriting?
The film deals with the three key dramatic elements of conflict, contrast and character. The film suggests that loneliness is a relative feeling and can be experienced by a sexually active gay man and a grieving widow in much the same way. The vision of Christ in a pair of tight fitting swimming trunks is one of the best examples of comedy which encapsulates conflict, contrast and character.

ASFF: The central character of Spoilers potentially loves again after losing it once before. How do you think this notion will resonate with audiences as a universal narrative?
IP: The notion of optimism is key to the film as is facing your insecurities head on adopting a glass half full and not half empty as your world view. In what appears to be a world full of danger and insecurities about the future I think Spoilers is the perfect antidote and a new addition to the “feel good movie” franchise, which are still few and far between in the world of LGBT cinema.

Find out more about this year’s films:

1. Still from Tim Marshall, Followers. Courtesy of Iris Prize.